Peace and Conflict

Amnesty Campaign: Some quick thoughts

I never thought I’d say this, but I think Amnesty International has made a big mistake in launching its latest human rights campaign against Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the World Cup Cricket Tournament.

Don’t get me wrong (and yet I predict many will). I am entirely supportive of any and all attempts to highlight grave human rights violations in Sri Lanka. However, the recent initiative a la Amnesty reeks of double standards, cheap pot-shots and poor taste. Here are the reasons why.

First, if World Cup Cricket offers an opportunity to name and shame human rights violators, then practically every competing country is fair game for past or continuing rights violations. The fact that this particular tournament takes place at a time when the incidence of rights violations are at an all-time high in Sri Lanka seems too easy a reason for AI to single-out one country without as much a passing reference to other egregious violators. Second, if sports tournaments are powerful platforms for human rights campaigns, it begs the question as to why AI has not used the NCAA to draw attention to the horrors of Guantanamo or World Cup Soccer to push for withdrawal from Iraq. Third, even if the campaign is directed at the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, it inadvertently targets eleven men who have been selected to represent the country (not the state), on the basis of their talent and skill (give or take some political patronage), not on their politics. If eleven Government Ministers were going out to bat, bring on the banners. If Tamilselvam was leading his merry men into the field, raise up the flags. It is unfair to highlight a country’s poor record by using a forum where eleven of its nationals have shown up to play a game. Are there AI banners following Tiger Woods to the first tee en route to his next Masters title? Fourth, for all the rhetoric that the campaign is directed at both the Government and the LTTE, let’s be honest enough to admit that if it does as much irk anyone, it will the Government elected to represent the country and not the group that is seeking separation from it. Again, it is worthwhile holding the government elect more responsible for rights violations over a rebel group, then however, let us not pretend that the campaign is directed at anyone else. Fifthly and finally, if AI believes that this will have an iota of effect on the stakeholders – Government or LTTE – they clearly have no insight into the history of the conflict or the workings of our war-mongers. If anything – as evidenced by media reports – it will harden attitudes, increase anti-peace sentiments and anti-NGO sentiments and in sum bolster support for a military solution to silence all outsiders. And if AI thinks that a campaign such as this will mobilize the cricket-watching citizenry to stand up against rights violations, again they suffer in delusion. Those that might care wield no power to make a difference. And those that don’t will reach for that glass of old arrack and sit back to watch the match.